Receding Water in Brian Laundrie Search Area Could Help FBI; Nothing Found in Dad's 1st Assist

Brian Laundrie's parents had told investigators that they last saw their son on Sept. 14, when he told them he was going hiking in the Carlton Reserve. Now they're saying he may have left a day earlier, according to the family's attorney

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What to Know

  • The FBI's prime person of interest in Gabby Petito's disappearance, her fiance Brian Laundrie, has now been missing for more than three weeks
  • The 23-year-old vanished after allegedly telling his family he was going for a hike in a Florida nature preserve in mid-September; his parents have called any rumors they helped him flee "just wrong"
  • Petito's body was found in a remote area of a Wyoming park the couple visited last month; her death has been ruled a homicide, though exactly how she died is a question pending additional forensic study

The FBI has been looking for Gabby Petito's fiancé Brian Laundrie, their prime person of interest in her disappearance, for more than three weeks now -- and the missing man's father joined their effort in person for the first time on Thursday, the family's attorney told News 4.

Lawyer Steve Bertolino said Chris Laundrie assisted law enforcement in their search of Florida's sprawling Carlton Reserve, which has been the focal point of the national manhunt since Brian Laundrie disappeared in mid-September. The preserve has been closed to the public since Laundrie vanished, though Bertolino says his parents have been cooperating since the search began.

Chris Laundrie pointed out trails and other places in the preserve that he and his son had hiked before and that Brian Laundrie was known to frequent, Bertolino said, adding, "There were no discoveries but the effort was helpful to all."

"It seems the water in the Preserve is receding and certain areas are more accessible to search," Bertolino said. "The entire Laundrie family is grateful for the hard work of the dedicated members of law enforcement that have been searching the Preserve for Brian over the last few weeks. Hopefully Brian will be located soon."

Earlier Thursday, the Laundrie family attorney had said that even though the parents hadn't been out in person in the preserve prior to Thursday, they had conveyed whatever information they had to authorities three weeks ago. In saying that, Bertolino noted, "It is now thought that an on-site assistance may be better."

At least part of the earlier information Laundrie's parents gave to law enforcement has been questioned in recent days, including the date they initially said they had last seen their son. At first, the parents told investigators Brian Laundrie said he was going for a hike in the alligator- and snake-infested 25,000 preserve on Sept. 14. Now Bertolino says the Laundries believe Brian went for the hike a day earlier.

Bertolino said the parents based the date "on their recollection of certain events."

“Upon further communication with the FBI and confirmation of the Mustang being at the Laundrie residence on Wednesday, Sept. 15, we now believe the day Brian left to hike in the preserve was Monday, Sept. 13," the attorney said this week.

The Laundries didn't report their son missing, though, until Sept. 17, two days after they returned the silver Mustang to their home on their own when they couldn't find him, according to earlier details released in the probe. It was taken by investigators for analysis and later returned. It's unknown what, if anything, was found inside.

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According to WFLA, local police confirmed Wednesday that the Mustang was tagged with an "abandoned vehicle" note on Sept. 14, the initial date Laundrie's parents had said Brian went to the Carlton Reserve. The location listed on a heavily redacted incident report is an address for the Myakkahatchee Creek Environmental Park, WFLA reports, which is about a 20-minute drive from the Carlton Reserve.

That abandoned vehicle notice, timestamped 2:24 p.m. on Sept. 14, according to WFLA, would suggest that the Mustang had been abandoned at the same location for at least a day. WFLA reports it would take five days before police towed an abandoned car. It was never exactly clear, at least publicly, where the Laundries said they picked up the Mustang when they couldn't find Brian at the preserve.

The family has consistently said they had nothing to do with their son's disappearance, calling any rumors that they may have helped Brian Laundrie evade law enforcement "just wrong." Through Bertolino, they have called any speculation from those uninvolved — like Duane "Dog the Bounty Hunter" Chapman or a retired U.S. Marshal who told NBC New York that he thought Brian Laundrie was still alive — "just guessing."

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Gabby Petito's family is holding out hope that Brian Laundrie will be found alive.

"We believe he knows everything," Petito's mother, Nichole Schmidt, told FOX News Thursday. "I would say he's the key to the puzzle."

Her husband, Petito's stepdad Jim Schmidt, was in Wyoming when investigators recovered human remains that were later confirmed to be Gabby's in a remote area of a national park in the state last month. He wants Laundrie found, too.

"What happened out there? Until they find him we won't know," Jim Schmidt said in the same interview. "Just turn yourself in. Whatever the circumstances are, whatever happened, just go there, do the right thing, do the right thing for yourself, do the right thing for Gabby, for our family and for your own family."

Petito's mother says her family deserves the truth. In a slate of media interviews this week, she explained that she didn't report her daughter missing until Sept. 11 because that was when she learned the white van the couple had been traveling in returned to North Port, Florida, with Laundrie but no sign of Petito. Nichole Schmidt says she had been trying to reach Laundrie's parents for weeks to no avail.

Investigators say it appears Gabby Petito's cellphone had been off since about Aug. 27. It took eight days for investigators to find Petito's remains after that missing person report was filed. Her death was ruled a homicide, meaning she was killed by another person, but how exactly she died remains a question pending further study.


It could take weeks before final autopsy results are issued — and possibly longer before the public is permitted to be aware of the findings.

Laundrie does have an outstanding federal arrest warrant out for him. It charges him with a single count of unauthorized debit card usage but also allows law enforcement to hold him for a period of time if they can find him.

The FBI continues to solicit tips by phone and online regarding the potential whereabouts of Laundrie or any other details on the couple.

Relevant information may be submitted to the FBI here or by calling 1-800-CALL-FBI or 303-629-7171. Photos & videos may be uploaded to: http://fbi.gov/petito.     

It has been 16 days since Gabby Petito's fiancé, Brian Laundrie, allegedly told his parents he was going for a hike in a sprawling Florida nature preserve. It's set of a massive manhunt - but one seasoned US Marshal says he doesn't think Laundrie was ever there. This week on The Debrief, retired U.S. Marshal Craig Caine gives his take.
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